Huawei Kirin 990 chipset first to have a 5G modem

Huawei announced Kirin 990, the first chipset with an integrated 5G modem that will power its future smartphones, at IFA 2019 held in Germany last Friday.

Kirin 990 5GKirin 990Kirin 980
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GPU16-core Mali G76MP1616-core Mali G76MP1610-core Mali G76MP10
NPU2 + 1 Da Vinci1 + 1 Da Vinci2 Cambricon
ModemBalong 5000 5G4G4G
DRAM supportLPDDR4-4266LPDDR4-4266LPDDR4X-4266

Table source: AnandTech

With its release, slated for Sept. 18, the Kirin 990 will supersede the Kirin 980 as Huawei’s flagship mobile chipset. It’s expected to debut in its upcoming Mate 30 series smartphones.

The Kirin 990 will arrive in standard and 5G variants. The Kirin 990 5G has the Huawei Balong 5000 5G modem integrated directly into the chipset for better performance. The standard Kirin 990 has a 4G modem.

Because 5G networks are still in development, mobile chipset manufacturers tend to avoid embedding the 5G modem into the chipset. Instead, they opt to have the 5G modem as a discrete component in tandem with a 4G modems inside the chipset. Placing the 5G modems as separate modules allow them to be integrated as per demand and without having to manufacturer other parts of the chipset, thus reducing cost.

But as Ian Cutress wrote in his AnandTech analysis, chipset makers would eventually need to move the modem into the chipset to reach maximum performance. Huawei’s design beat both Samsung and Qualcomm to the punch, delivering a mobile chipset that supports both 4G and 5G.

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Although the Kirin 990 5G supports both 4G and 5G sub-6GHz frequencies, Huawei has also launched a Kirin 990 without 5G capabilities, possibly due in equal parts to reducing cost and the tepid demand for 5G phones.

Huawei’s 5G modem supports standalone and non-standalone sub 6GHz frequencies. In its press release, Huawei says that the Balong 5000 can achieve up to 2.3Gbps downlink and 1.25Gbps uplink. This is exactly half of the speeds specified on HiSilicon’s product page. A Huawei spokesperson told IT World Canada that the Balong 5000 can only hit the advertised speeds as a standalone modem. Because of the other components in the Kirin 990 — the CPU, GPU, and NPU–, the 5G speeds needed to be reduced when it was integrated into the chipset.

For better power tuning, both chips are manufactured using TSMC’s 7nm+ transistors and feature two ARM A76 performance cores, two A76 standard cores, and four power-efficient cores A55 cores. The standard Kirin 990 has the standard and efficiency core frequencies lowered but is still an increase over the Kirin 980. In contrast, the Kirin 980 has four performance cores and four efficiency cores. Slicing the performance module into two parts allows for finer power controls, which translates to better battery life.

The graphics subsystem has received plenty of attention, at least from the specification perspective. The Kirin 990 features the Mali G76MP16 graphics processor with 16 cores, 60 per cent more than the Huawei 980. As shown in previous reviews, graphics have always been a weak point of Huawei chipsets.

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The chips also feature a new neural processing unit (NPUs) with the new “Da Vinci” architecture and core combination. Moreover, Huawei also announced the ISP 5.0, the image signal processor that improves noise reduction and real-time video post-processing.


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